'Anger' is becoming an excuse for all manner of political activity.
For the record, that's never been a bad thing. Anger and the demand for change in policy, societal custom and tradition has been the fuel which ignited the flame which forged everything from the birth of our country to the end of slavery and segregation. There have even been points at which the anger has resulted in the personalization and polarization that has given shape and focus to such movements, whether they that focus was King George or Bull Conner.
But what we see in our country is something different. It is most noticeably a cry of the disenfranchised and exploitative opportunists which are not seeking to clarify the grounds upon which we will be 'free' - but the preservation of class advantages utilizing those who will not enjoy those advantages as soldiers in the army to preserve them.
How often are we hearing cries that from people saying 'I want my country back'! A cry that calls to mind, not exceptionalism but an exclusionary politics that suggest only one type of patriotism expressed in one set of public policy initiatives designed to benefit the 'hard working Americans'. Overwhelmingly, these happen to be white, middle class, vulnerable to the economic downturn that had produced stagnant job growth, stagnant wages and a papermache fiscal foundation designed to support reckless investment at the top and wanton consumerism at the middle. Those at the bottom of the financial ladder, were meant to be the quiet recipients of the charity and organized philanthropy.
Think of it: a society which had one of the worst savings rates in its history (and in the world for that matter); which had been trained to think of home equity, as a piggy bank; which gullibly sought to treat credit as a means to wealth - has suddenly become aware of the fragile nature of its 'future' and is now is concerned about the 'debt being passed on to its children'. The reason for the country's precarious outlook? Not those who snuck by unfunded wars, prescription drug benefits or underfunded education initiatives: they are the poor, 'illegal' immigrants from Mexico and those who are dependent on 'entitlements'.
And so, it would appear, that more than any other time in our history, we are 'angrier' than ever. The pity is that what is transpiring is that we are blindly targeting one another in our anger.
The 'anger' with President Barack Obama, is a metaphor for how we've sourced our resentment and our rage. He has become a symbol of what this country has feared: a coming home to roost of the chickens of our country's legacy of oppression and empire. He is the our nation's history's perfect irony - he is what was feared since 1619 - the result of a union (there seems to be even a reluctance to recognize the marriage) between a white American woman and an African. He has to be other! Not a citizen. Not truly an American. Not patriotic. He was reared for a time in Indonesia, so he has to be foreign. His father was a Muslim so he has to be Muslim. His Christian pastor bitterly denounced America, so he has to be anti- American. He was a community organizer after the Alinsky model, so he has to be 'socialist' if not 'communist'. He graduated from Harvard Law School, he's taught Constitutional law, so he has to be 'elitist'. He's an eloquent speaker and during the campaign he attracted crowds by the hundreds of thousands, so his supporters must have been deluded and he must have a 'God complex'.
He's not tweeking a broken system, he's actually trying to produce what American 'political speak' has always said it wanted - health care for everyone, proactive environmental policies, so he must be trying to destroy the country.
In the meantime, our country - on the verge of economic collapse - threatened the security we've known as consumers. Lay-offs (which were already happening, prior to 2008, and which many people tried to call attention to); a crisis in the mortgage industry; an auto crisis that had been in the making for decades and a stock market that tanked prior to November 2008 called for government intervention not seen since Roosevelt. And a country just revisiting Roosevelt and unfamiliar with the uncertainty which accompanied his policies during the oppression only see 'government out of control' - not realizing that it had been out of control for at least 10 years.
For these reasons Americans are scared - and 'angry'.
If only we could remember something: the country that elected Barack Obama, was a country that reinvented itself. This was a country that broke with its past in such a way that the election of a president - for us something so peacefully routine that it makes us unique among the nations of this world - symbolized our willingness to forge a history totally at odds with our past. We just hadn't counted on how alive the spirit of that past still is and how hard it dies.
But it will die. I choose to believe that the 'anger' we experience now, are but the labor pains of the future we have conceived. Years from now, we will look at the foolish statements and signs of angry Americans, in the same way that we look at newsreel footage of 'angry' segregationists' and the hooded terrorists of 40-60 years ago. We will view with sad, head shaking bemusement, those who disrupted congressional townhall meetings with cries of 'No socialist medicine and keep your hands off my Medicare'! And we will be astonished that we actually took seriously millionaire entertainers, posing as political pundits who 'warned' us of higher taxes, when the only taxes that they were worried about being raised were theirs. And we will question the patriotism of those other business leaders who gladly took more than 10 years worth of tax cuts but refused to create jobs when those tax cuts ended.
At that time we will have learned that consumers have a fate - only citizens have a future.
Civil War historian Shelby Foote said in Ken Burns' documentary of that area, that before the Civil War Americans quite unconsciously said "The United States 'are'". That was the way we thought of ourselves, as a collection of states. After the Civil War, we began to say, "The United States 'is'". That's what the Civil War did for us, he said, "It made us an 'is'".
When we get past being an 'angry' nation, we'll discover our 'isness' again.
God speed the day!